ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Twenty-Eight)

ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Twenty-Eight)

“Moyo,” Steve said, “it’s Obaseki.”

“Obaseki?” It took me a full minute to fully digest what Steve was saying. But when what he was saying fully hit me, I quickly sat up.

“Obaseki…?” I asked again. “Where is he?”

“Outside,” Steve said. “By the door. I asked him to come in. Said he wasn’t coming in unless you say so.”

I didn’t plan for that sort of complication. It was the first day I could swallow something solid since Josephine’s burial. Thanks to Adolo and Felicia, I was treated to Ogi and akara that money. They garnished the ogi with honey. The akara was made with palm-oil, just as I wanted it.

“You are so primitive,” Adolo said. “Who still makes akara with palm oil!”

“I still do,” Felicia replied. “That’s why I have to make my own akara.

“All the roadside akara sellers use ororo now o,” Adolo said. “Throughout this Benin City, I know only one or two places where they use epo.”

“They are beginning to associate epo with orisa worship,” Felicia answered. “I just like the taste of akara made with epo.”

“Me too,” I said from the bed, only the night before. “I would eat any akara, with or without epo, with bread and a bottle of Coke.”

“Your body is not yet ready for coke,” Adolo protested. “You have no idea how hard we worked on you to keep your body cooled down. You were sweating like I never saw anyone sweat, yet you were perfectly still, and looked so much at peace with yourself, sleeping for more than forty-eight hours.”

“Yet your temperature was not above 100 degrees,” Felicia interjected, “even as you sweated like you were ten times that temperature. Two days straight you slept. And you sweated like River Niger. Adolo and I took turns wiping the sweat off your body with a towel.”

“And now you are awake, the first thing you crave is a bottle of Coke,” Adolo said. “Your immunity can’t handle it. We will not give you bread. Too solid after not eating for more than twenty-four hours.”

“So what can he eat now?” Felicia asked.

“We will start him with ogi and akara,” Adolo decided. “If he handles that well, we will try bolder things. But not yet Coke-ready.”

“I’m beer ready,” Steve said. “Always.”

“Oyibo, you probably poisoned them,” Adolo said.

“These ones?” Steve asked, indicating Rufus and me. “I’ve tried. But I’m yet to find poison strong enough. Suggestions?”

“You should be ashamed of yourself, Oyibo,” Felicia said. “Only you eating and drinking like no tomorrow. Why are you not sick like them?”

“Oyibos don’t feel things like we do,” Adolo theorized. “They quickly accept life. We don’t accept life like that. We allow things to affect us too deeply.”

“It’s true,” Felicia agreed. “To Oyibo people, even when his father dies, he will still smoke a cigarette. There is a reverend father at our catholic church here in Benin. When he got the news that his father died, he lit a cigarette.”

“Hey, all,” I intervened. “Why don’t we allow the ambassador of the Oyinbos, who is present amongst us tonight, tell us how Oyinbo people feel? Over to you Mister Steve of the British Empire.”

“It is best for you to keep out of this, Moyo,” Steve suggested, “because you are invalid and cannot be trusted at this point to speak for yourself. I would rather be left alone with the two ladies who raised the notion.”

Adolo sang: “So I want to know where

You got the notion….

So I gotta know where

You gatt the notion…onnnnnnnn……!”

“Rock the boat!” Felicia sang back.

“So rock the boat baby…,” Steve sang. “….My love is like the ship on the ocean…eannnnnnn!!!”

“Hey guys,” I said, “I need all of you out of my room. I’m tired. Thanks for the love songs. Out! Out!”

“So, in the morning, you are having hot ogi and akara,” Adolo asked.

“I’ll make the akara,” Felicia said. “Papa Ru also wants akara but he didn’t indicate whether with epo or not.

Steve said something as they left my room, but it was not clear to me but see who answered but my travel friend Wale, who helped me packed my things into the boot of his car.

The next morning I opened my eyes to a sensation of starving. I looked up, and the scent of the most delicious akara filled my nostrils.

Was I dreaming?

I sprang up. Right there on the table was an arrangement of dishes suggesting that an amazing time awaited me if I could only get up. Also, in an embarrassing way, a lady’s panties were hanging on the back of the chair next to the table, a reminder of Gina’s visit.

I quickly grabbed Gina’s panties and tucked them behind a pile in the wardrobe. Then it occurred to me that I was trying to hide something everybody had seen. It made no sense on the one hand, but it was the only thing to do, on the other hand.

I settled behind the table and cleaned everything, without any trace.

I went back to bed and began to craze a bottle of Coke.

That was when Steve came in and announced that Obaseki was at the door and needed my permission to come in.

It was not my house. It was Rufus’s house. But I understood what Obaseki meant. He probably didn’t want the hand of Rufus in the matter at this point.

But what did Obaseki want anyway? Why didn’t he just stay away?

“Steve,” I said, “are you comfortable with him around?”

“I don’t care,” Steve said. “I just wanna know why he attacked me that night.”

“I understand, Steve,” I said. “But I cannot deal with any of that right now. You understand? I’m not in the health situation to begin that discussion. And I don’t think Rufus is in a condition to handle that discussion either.”

“So, what do you suggest?” Steve asked.

There was a knock on the door. I was surprised. Who would knock like that before entering my room in that village?

“It’s me Obaseki,” came the shy voice. “The ladies said you are not well and that I could come in to see you.”

“Obaseki, can we please talk later,” I said, “I’m not well enough for now….”

“And Madam Ngu said both of us should come to her house today,” Obaseki continued. “Remember? It’s this evening.”

“Obaseki,” I said, raising my voice. “Thank you. But please if you go, tell mama that I’m sorry but I can’t come. Or you may say I said, ‘Fuck Iya Ngu!’”

Suddenly, from the background, the deep voice of Rufus rumbled out. I hadn’t heard that voice in days, but it sounded like months. And the depth of the voice was also uncommonly resonant and really low, coming from a throat that had not spoken for days:

“is that the voice of Obaseki?” Rufus’s voice rumbled.

Obaseki quickly opened the door to my bedroom, closed it behind him, and without a cue, jumped under the table, hiding totally.

Rufus ambled in. “I thought I heard Obaseki’s voice, he said, flopping on the chair, in front of the table under which Obaseki was hiding.

“You have finished the ogi and akara,” Rufus said. “Where’s mine?”


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